Sack John - An eye for an eye

Author : Sack John
Title : An eye for an eye The Story of Jews Who Sought Revenge For the Holocaust
Year : 1993

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Preface. My mother's mother was from Cracow, thirty miles from Auschwitz, and I must assume that if she (and my other grandparents) hadn't left in the i890s and sailed to America, that I’d have been sent to Auschwitz in the 1940s. I'd have been about twelve years old. Like other boys then, I’d have been wearing a drab gray suit and a flat gray "golfer" cap, and I'd have stepped from the train with my mother, father, and freckle-cheeked sister nine years old, and onto the concrete platform inside of the Auschwitz wires. As it happened, I didn't go to Auschwitz until ten years ago, when I was almost sixty and it was safe to do so. I stood on the wide concrete platform and stared at the tracks where the train would have been, but I couldn’t picture myself getting off it. I tried, but the "when, where and what” of Auschwitz were so remote from my own remembered world that I felt I was trying to see myself as I or my atoms were just before the Big Bang. I'd read about Auschwitz, and I knew that Mengele would have been on this platform that day, and I went to where he'd have stood. I knew he'd have told my mother and father, "Go right," and my sister and me, "Go left,” but I still couldn't picture it. I went to the ruins of the dressing room—the undressing room—then of the cyanide chamber, which now had no roof and was full of old roofcomponents, of dirt, grass and dandelions, and (as I looked closely) of tiny white chips of bone that, in the 1940s, had fallen there from the sky. Again, I tried to picture my sister and me in this cyanide chamber, undressed, our two bodies touching and one thousand people around us, all screaming, the gas coming down upon us, and I simply couldn't see it, my mind had no hook that could hold it, I might as well have been groping for "Why does the universe exist? What if it didn’t?" I left without taking notes, but I remember that I felt some sympathy for the men and women who say that the Holocaust didn’t happen. The people who say it are fools, maybe worse, but I can commiserate with them. The thought the Holocaust did, indeed, happen is too enormous for one little volleball x brain. I'd come to Auschwitz and this part of Poland to research this book. I had heard of a Jewish girl, Lola, who, after onc-and-one-half years at Auschwitz, had turned the Holocaust upside-down by becoming the commandant of the big prison for Germans at Gleiwitz, thirty miles away, and in some ways by imitating the SS women at Auschwitz, and I wanted to write about her. Lola wasn’t in Poland anymore, but as I spoke to Jews, Poles and Germans about her and as I studied documents in a cobwebbed cellar in Poland and a concrete castle over the Rhine, I slowly became aware that the truth was much, much larger than Lola. I learned that hundreds of Jews and probably thousands of Jews who'd been on the platform at Auschwitz (or the numerous places like it) in the early 1940s could picture things that I couldn't and, in fact, could do things that in the 1930s they couldn’t even have pictured. When the Holocaust ended, I learned, a lot of Jews became commandants like Lola. I understood why, but the Jews were sometimes as cruel as their exemplars at Auschwitz, and they even ran the organization that ran the prisons and—as I learned—the concentration camps for German civilians in Poland and Poland-administered Germany. Once again, I felt that I was confronting something too big for one little three-pound brain, for I was learning that, yes, the Holocaust happened, the Germans killed Jews, but that a second atrocity happened that the Jews who committed it covered up: one where the Jews killed Germans. God knows the Jews were provoked, but I learned that in 1945 they killed a great number of Germans: not Nazis, not Hider's trigger men, but German civilians, German men, women, children, babies, whose "crime" was just to be Germans. Through the wrath of Jews, however understandable, the Germans lost more civilians than at Dresden, more than, or just as many as, the Japanese at Hiroshima, the Americans at Pearl Harbor, the British in the Battle of Britain, or the Jews themselves in Poland's occasional pogroms: so I now learned, and I was aghast to learn it. This was no Holocaust of the moral equivalent of the Holocaust, but I knew that if I reported it, I’d be exhibiting, well, call it chutzpah, for I could guess what the world would say, but I felt I’d be doing the righteous thing both as a reporter and as a man who's a Jew. I'm not a Biblical scholar, but I went to Saturday school (I was voted the “most religious") and I knew that the Torah tells us to bear honest witness, tells us, indeed, that if someone sins and we know it and don’t report it, then we're guilty too. The men (and the woman, a scholar says) who wrote the Torah didn’t cover up Jewish misdeeds. Even when Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, sinned— -God told him to go to Israel, but he went to Egypt instead—the Torah reported it. It reported that Judah, whose name is the source of "Jew," made love to a harlot, and it reported that Moses, even Moses, trespassed against the Lord, who then didn't let him into the Promised xi Land. The people who wrote the Torah (or according to Orthodox Jews, the God who wrote it) believed that we Jews couldn’t proclaim, "Thou shalt not cover," "Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not kill," if we ourselves did it and covered it up, and I, as a Jew doing research in Europe, felt that I must report what the Jewish commandants did if Jews were to keep any moral authority. I suspected that some Jews would ask me, "How could a Jew write this book?" and I knew that my answer must be "No, how could a Jew not write it?" When I came back from Europe, and when I started writing, I still chose to concentrate on the intimate story of Lola and Lola’s circle. To write a whole formal history such as the Germans wrote, from the German viewpoint, omitting all mention of Jews, in a three-volume work in the 196os, would demand a battalion of historians who, even then, probably wouldn’t turn up the truth of a secret organization from 1945. For myself, I didn’t want to write something like "The Jews did this," "The Jews did that," "Well, weren’t the Jews just awful," just as I hadn't written like that in my three books about the American soldiers in Vietnam and as I hope I wouldn't write if I ever wrote about the German SS. I decided that in An Eye for an Eye, I woulddt report that a Jew had beaten a German, tortured a German, or killed a German until the reader could understand why the Jew had done it and even could think, If I’d been him, I’d have done it myself, and I hope with all my heart that I've succeeded. I also decided that An Eye for an Eye wouldn't just be about the Jews who strayed from the Torah but also about the Jews who prevailed upon them to return, and I hope I've succeeded here too. In the end, I hope that An Eye for an Eye is something more than the story of Jewish revenge: that it's also the story of Jewish redemption. A word to those readers who, in the 2000s, get understandably lost at the borders of document, docudrama, and drama on documented matters. The people in An Eye for an Eye are real. The events in An Eye for an Eye really happened. The conversations in An Eye for an Eye, with three minor exceptions that I describe in the Notes, are not "reconstructed" but are what people in An Eye for an Eye really recalled, and the thoughts in An Eye for an Eye are what these people reported. At the end of An Eye for an Eye are twenty-five thousand words of Notes and Sources, and among these is the documentation for the number of Jews in the German-imprisoning organization, the positions that the Jews held, the number of prisons for Germans and concentration camps for Germans, and the number of Germans who died inside them and Germans who died all in all. If, despite this, a reader still feels that he or she is standing on some strange platform in Poland thinking, "I can't believe this," I can well sympathize, for I've been on that platform myself I can just promise that I'm a careful reporter and An Eye for an Eye is true. ...

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